OPINION | Iran - Pakistan: Can Rouhani Resolve the Tensions? by Majid Izadpanahi

OPINION | Iran - Pakistan: Can Rouhani Resolve the Tensions? by Majid Izadpanahi



By Majid Izadpanahi
Research Associate, IPCS New Delhi


Iran and Pakistan have been facing issues on the border relating to terrorism and drug trafficking for some time now. This has raised tensions between Tehran and Islamabad, resulting in clashes. The recent clash in October resulted in casualties for both sides and the Pakistani ambassador in Tehran was summoned by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Iranian officials state that the terrorists and bandits use Pakistani territory as a base to attack Iranian border forces, and Pakistan categorically rejects the allegations. Iranian officials allege that Pakistan has no control over its own borders and Pakistan says that Iran should not justify its internal problems with external reasons.

Iran’s foreign policy post the 1979 Islamic Revolution shifted from a pro-US to anti-US stance, while Pakistan remained pro-US. The US’s policy of regime change in Tehran through destabilization by the separatists was welcomed by Pakistan, especially evident in their support of the Iranian Jundallah. 

The latest clash on the Iran-Pakistan border is not a new occurrence, but it is rare that a number of clashes take place frequently in the span of few days. Insofar it is unclear whether the clash was a reaction to the terrorist attacks on the Iranian Border Police or confrontation with the armed groups and drug barons that are active in the region. Nationalist Baloch groups, radical Sunni groups and drug traffickers are active in the Iran-Pakistan border region; Pakistan accuses India and sometimes Afghanistan, of fueling instability in the region. 

Evidently, the situation along the Iran-Pakistan border is worsening.

Are Both Sides Interested in a Military Solution?

Pakistan’s western border is its safest border; most Pakistani forces are positioned in the country’s eastern border with India and its northern borders with Afghanistan. The rest are positioned either in Sindh or Punjab. Despite the security and ethnic problems in Balochistan, Pakistan is not interested in beginning a new conflict on the western border by confronting Iranian forces. In other words, Pakistan has no military and financial ability to confront another country and engage in border conflicts. Such conflicts could lead to instability in Balochistan, such that it may may get out of Islamabad’s control.

Iran also understands the situation in Sistan Baluchestan, and has now engaged in a big conflict in its western borders. Tehran is therefore not interested in clashing with Pakistan and considers such a move unwise. Iran is also concerned about other actors beyond the region that tend to cause disputes in its eastern border given its wariness regarding the Islamic State and the role of some regional countries in creating it.

Therefore, Iran’s hard talk vis-à-vis the border clashes can be considered a diplomatic and military show that also sends a warning to the neighbors, especially Deputy Commander Brigadier-General Hossein Salami of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s statement that if Pakistan does not take any action against terrorists targeting Iran and drug traffickers, Iranian forces may enter its territory.

“Every country should fulfil its obligations towards its internal security as well as the security of the neighbouring countries,” Salami said. “We will find rebels anywhere, even inside the neighbouring countries and will take any action against them without restrictions if they do not stop their activity,” he added.

Iran’s reaction, that is expected to serve as a warning to non-state actors and one that follows limited aims, can impact regional equations. However, if the situation gets out of control, it can have a serious influence on Tehran’s military and security approach towards problems in Sistan Baluchestan. Such a situation will result in increased instability and insecurity in Iran’s eastern border. And that too is not in Tehran’s interests. 

The conflict between Iran and Pakistan and Pakistan’s tacit support to non-state actors and separatists against Iran could be the result of Islamabad’s close relations with Riyadh and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and Iran’s shaky relations with its neighbours and the US. The Pakistani state is extremely dependent on the US military and economic aid that is used especially against India. Iran-Pakistan relations are dependent on Iran’s relations with the US and the regional Arab countries. 

So if Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani can achieve improved Iranian relations with the West and promoting Iran’s international position, it would reduce some sources of hostility in Iran-Pakistan relations. This would push Islamabad to change its hostile behaviour toward Tehran and reduce and eventually give up support to non-state actors, namely the late Abdolmalek Rigi's Jundallah and the Jaish-al Adl.

This article was first published at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi's Website on 24 November 2014

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